Anyone who still cherishes the fond memories of the 1980s would recognize Rashid Barqi. A face, which was frequently visible on Doordarshan Srinagar, much before private TV Channels made their way into Kashmiri homes. Many would also know him for his work on the stage, but only those close to him, know him well and his contribution towards the culture of Kashmir.
Excerpts from an interaction with Rajesh Prothi.
You have played quite a significant role in the theatre of Kashmir. How did it all start?
R. Barqi: I believe my place of birth had an influence over me. Way back as early as in 1975, when I was in the 6th Standard I took part in the school (Government Middle School) annual function where I played Tumbakhnari and sang a Kashmiri folk song. I remember my teachers Master Dinanath jee and Master Chamanlal Bhat jee and another teacher from those days, Abdul Rahim jee. The latter was a non-kashmiri from Lucknow. They were impressed with me and suggested that I should follow the same line. And I guess, that was it.
Which folk you sang on that day, which seemed have put on this path?
R. Barqi: It was one of the most famous songs that used to be aired by Radio Kashmir Srinagar during that time – “Nazneen yar maiun yech chuu mulakat’. It was sung by Ghulam Nabi Dolwal from Kishtwar District.
What prompted you to opt for theatre?
R. Barqi: There are many aspects to this journey. Radio was and still is a medium of voice. On the other hand, theatre was more of a live audience and also Doordrashan had started coming of age. The path was clear.
Any interesting anecdotes during this journey?
R. Barqi: Two names come to my mind when I think of the early days of theatre in Kashmir, Ustad Trilok Das and Manohar Prothi jee. Both of them were doing theatre. I was new and too eager to learn and prove myself. I was a young boy and I was told that I would be throwing my father’s pagri (head gear) on the ground. I was very offended as this was a disrespect to my father. Actually, I had mis-understood the statement. It was Ustad Trilok Das and Prothi jee who explained to me that the path I had decided to tread was a difficult one and in our society, especially in Kashmir, people would leave no stone unturned in their attempt to ridicule my love for theatre which of course would cause discomfort to my family.
Anyway, during my higher secondary schooling at Bagi-Dalawar-Khan, I was encouraged by my the school principal Mr.Ghulam Nabi Sadiqi to continue walking on this path. Such encouragements and guidance not only just made me strong, but took me to the national level also.
You are now guiding the young generation of Kashmiris in the art of theatre. What are you doing in this area?
R. Barqi: I have about 300 students from various districts of Kashmir who are involved with me. While these students learn various form of Kashmiri folk art, they also get an opportunity to showcase their talents beyond the mountains of the Kashmir Valley. We do Kashmiri musical programs and theatre at the national level. The high point of my effort is that our students have been getting scholarships from the Ministry of Culture, Government of India and the required recognition.
Earlier you were a student and now you guide the new generation. Between these two points, Kashmir has gone through many changes. How was this period for you in particular?
R. Barqi: The situation in Kashmir during the last decade or two did not affect me personally. Nobody stopped me from practicing my art. The reason for this I believe is that these are two different worlds. My world belongs to art and culture of Kashmir.
I remember, in 1997, we attended a folk festival in Mumbai, where I was given the ‘Best Folk Director’ award.
But the high point was in 2001 when we took part in a ”Drama Festival of India” and also took part in the Republic Day parade.I had a group of over 40 artists. We sang ‘Naende baeth’ (naende: the process of rice planting; Baeth: song). The couplet we sang was by Shiekh-Ul-Alam (Chanz wani tye, Rela Ghari hae), which was well appreciated. The then Prime Minister, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, appreciated it a lot and asked us the meaning of the song. As a gesture, he gave each member of the group Rs.5,000 each and was I given Rs. 20,000.
When we went back, people back here in Kashmir told me that they saw us wearing ”pherans”. But no one asked why we were there. The worlds are far apart.
What kind of group do you have now?
R. Barqi: The group consists of boys and girls from different walks of life. Some are in music, singing and some are more into theatre. We learn a lot from each other. I believe life is a journey, wherein you learn new things each day. We have to evolve at each step. As a matter of fact, a radio play written by Ali Mohamed Lone some 40 years ago, which had people like Pran Kishore, Manohar Prothi, Somnath Sadhu, Nabla Begham associated with it, was adapted for theatre. We have to live up to such standards day in and day out.
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